Young students benefit from both discrete skill training and explicit instruction in storytelling to improve their language and reading comprehension

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Listening to, telling, reading, and writing stories gives students opportunities to work on multiple language targets at the same time while also learning a useful life skill.

With stories, students must process vocabulary and grammar at sentence-level, and then integrate information within and across sentences with their own world-knowledge to create a situation (mental) model of the events, why they happened, and how characters felt about them. (See links below for more detail.)

To understand and make good stories, students need:

  1. foundational language skills at word and sentence-levels, including knowledge and use of coordinating conjunctions (e.g., “and”, “but”, “so”), subordinating conjunctions (e.g., “because”, “if”, “while”), metacognitive verbs (e.g., “thought”, “decided”), metalinguistic verbs (e.g., “yelled”, “screamed”), adverbs (e.g., “quickly”, “very”), and elaborated noun phrases (e.g., “The very grumpy cat…”); 
  2. higher-level oral language skills, including inferencing, world-knowledge, and comprehension monitoring skills; and
  3. knowledge of “story grammar”: key story elements and the causal connections that bind them into organised, coherent stories.

For lots of reasons, many young students face additional bottlenecks to effective storytelling, including:

  1. poor handwriting and spelling, which tie up cognitive resources and distract from writing efforts; and/or
  2. difficulties saying and writing grammatical sentences, including using past tense verb forms correctly.

Young students benefit from a combination of discrete training on sentence-level language skills and explicit storytelling instruction.

Principal source: Gillam, S.L., Gillam, R.B., Magimairaj, B.M., Capin, P., Israelsen-Augenstein, M., Roberts, G. & Vaughan, S. (2024). Contextualised. Multicomponent Language Instruction: From Theory to Randomized Controlled Trial. (2024). Language, Hearing and Speech Services in Schools, 1-22.   

Further reading and free resources

Stories help students to understand and remember new information. Here’s why. 

Oral language comprehension: what is it? A plain English explainer

Speaking for themselves: why I choose ambitious syntax goals to help students put their words together (with research updates and resource links) 

Why background knowledge about the world can increase reading comprehension – even for facts you can just Google 

Higher level language overviews 

Help your child to fill in the gaps, join the dots, and read between the lines! (Improve inferencing skills for better reading and language comprehension)

Five ways to boost your child’s oral language and reading comprehension skills with sequencing

11 ways to improve writing interventions for struggling students 

Learning to handwrite fluently gives your child a big advantage 

Classic audiobook stories

Classic Audiobook Resource Pack for children in Kindergarten and Year 1 

Classic Audiobook Resource Pack for children in Years 2 to 6 

Examples of our contextualised language interventions we use

Aesop’s Fables: Narrative Language Workout Bundle

Man wearing glasses and a suit, standing in front of a bay

Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.

Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language

Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.

David Kinnane
Speech-Language Pathologist. Lawyer. Father. Reader. Writer. Speaker.

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